Last weekend, the 2020 Nightstream Film Festival offered genre fans a ton of amazing online offerings to enjoy throughout its four-day festivities. Here’s a look at two of the films I had the opportunity to check out during Nightstream: Mandibles from Quentin Dupieux and Mickey Reece’s Climate of the Hunter.
Mandibles: While I haven’t had the opportunity to check out Deerskin just yet (which also began making the festival rounds), as a big fan of his work on the blissfully absurd Rubber, I had a sneaking suspicion that I was going to enjoy Quentin Dupieux’s Mandibles immensely, and it did not disappoint. Made in the same spirit of all those slapstick ’80s comedies of errors that so many of us grew up loving, Mandibles is a delightfully offbeat tale of two friends who come across a giant oversized fly and set out to domesticate it in hopes of fame and fortune in the future.
While Mandibles is chock-full of all sorts of mishaps and misadventures, the basics of Dupieux’s story involve a hapless beach bum named Manu (Grégoire Ludig), who gets by in life by doing seemingly easy errands for low-level criminals. His latest gig involves him needing to steal a car with a trunk, retrieve a briefcase, and deliver said briefcase to a crime boss by the name of Michel-Michel. Easy, right? Not exactly. As he sets out on his job, Manu asks his pal Jean Gab (David Marsais) to come along and help out and as they are driving, they hear a mysterious thudding in the trunk. They stop to inspect the noise, and to their surprise, Manu and Jean Gab discover a gigantic fly inside, and the duo decide that the real solution to their problems is to teach this natural marvel how to do tricks, and once they do, the money will follow and all their problems will be solved. If only it were that easy.
Throughout his career, Dupieux has carved out a niche for telling truly oddball stories, and Mandibles is easily his most accessible effort to date. There’s an instant likeability to both Manu and Jean Gab, who feel like the latest members of the Hapless Comedy Duo Hall of Fame, and I just adored watching them try and deal with all sorts of wacky shenanigans they come across during their journey. At one point, they end up staying at a vacation home of a girl who thinks she went to school with Manu, and as Jean Gab tries to work with their giant fly (that they’ve named Dominique) outside of prying eyes, they get accused of sneaking a dog into their room. Rather than cop to the fact that they’re harboring this wonder of nature, Manu ends up stealing a Chihuahua to help sell their story, but Dominique has her own plans for the pup when she’s left alone with it in the room.
Some folks might not be into Dupieux’s brand of storytelling, which is understandable—I feel like you have to be a willing participant in the zany journeys that he often takes viewers on, and as someone who always enjoys genre stories that fall on the lighter side, there’s just something about Mandibles that made me immediately fall in love with these characters, but also left me really rooting for them in the end. Also, I don’t know much about the design and fabrication of Dominique the fly in Mandible, but there’s something about her being a practical FX creation in every scene that roots her existence in a sense of realism (despite the surreal circumstances of her existence), and honestly, I would give my life for this gargantuan insect, she’s just that adorable.
It may sound weird to say this, but even though Mandibles smacks of originality, there’s something about Dupieux’s approach in this film that reminded me a lot of films like Weekend at Bernie’s or even Repo Man to a degree. And as someone who enjoys films that tread along the unbeaten path, there’s just something that is so wonderfully weird and delightfully demented about what Dupieux has created here that I was easily won over by its charms.
Movie Score: 4/5
Climate of the Hunter: In Climate of the Hunter, co-writer/director Mickey Reece crafts a kitschy, vampire-infused psychedelic talky that has a bit of a psychological bent to it. Often feeling like you’re walking through a cinematic fever dream, Climate of the Hunter is certainly an intriguing project, oozing atmosphere and symbolism, but I don’t know if all of its narrative elements fully come together in the end, and as a whole, there’s something about the film’s conclusion that just felt like Reece got really close to finding a way to make it all work, but just misses the mark of greatness. Climate of the Hunter is a good film, but it had the potential to do so much more than it does.
At the start of Climate of the Hunter, we’re introduced to sisters Alma (Ginger Gilmartin) and Elizabeth (Mary Buss), who are spending time together at Alma’s vacation cabin out in the woods. They are anxiously awaiting the arrival of longtime friend Wesley (Ben Hall), who also owns a cabin not too far from them. Once Wesley shows up, the trio of friends catch up over dinner, and both sisters find themselves immediately drawn to their guest, which as you can imagine, causes a great deal of sibling rivalry on their part. And when both Alma’s daughter, Rose (Danielle Evon Ploeger), and Wes’ son, Percy (Sheridan McMichael), make an appearance, it further complicates things, and Wes’ potentially sinister agenda unravels a bit as certain truths about just who and what he is are revealed (sort of) along the way.
I think the biggest issue I had with Climate of the Hunter is that it feels like its script is working with two sets of truths, and the dreamy metaphors that are abound in the film don’t exactly prove the case of either narrative path. Part of the film is centered around Alma being unreliable and off-balance, and we really never get any solid answers in regard to whether or not she’s totally bananas. The other part of the film clearly wants us to believe that Wesley is a vampire, but the evidence that Reece and his co-writer John Selvidge provides viewers with doesn’t exactly add up either, resulting in a bit of frustration on my part while I was watching the film. I am all for movies that play up ambiguity, but Climate of the Hunter feels like it wants to have it both ways, and I’m not sure that it all totally works out in any kind of satisfying way by the time we get to its conclusion.
That being said, there was still something extremely hypnotic and captivating about Climate of the Hunter, and the performances in the film are strong and engrossing, and I loved all the production design and wardrobe choices made in the film as well. It certainly has a unique and intoxicating aesthetic to it, and as a period piece, its ostentatious nature does make the film a standout in that right. It’s not something I would probably outright recommend to all horror fans, but for those looking for a vampire (maybe?) story that goes against the grain, Climate of the Hunter just might be exactly what you’re looking for.
Movie Score: 3/5
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